Ever see the movie Fatal Attraction? Michael Douglas’ character Dan has an affair with Glenn Close’s character Alex Forrest. She goes bat-shit, stalking him, wrecking his car, picking his daughter up from school, boiling the poor kid’s bunny. The movie is a good example of why it’s best to stick to your vows and not cheat on your spouse. During a heated confrontation between the two, Alex shouts at Dan, “I won’t be ignored, Dan!”
Grief is like that.
It’s a bit of a stalker. What we don’t face, what we don’t resolve, and let go of, we’re going to be facing it, one way or another.
Back in 2009, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety after my heart rate shot up to 160 beats per minute and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Talking with the admitting nurse, she asked me if I had any past experience with abuse. Already floating on a high dose of Xanax (it had been determined my heart was fine and I was just experiencing a major panic attack), I’d opened up and talked about my mother.
“There are many studies showing that psychiatric patients who haven’t dealt with childhood abuse suffer from anxiety; if it’s not dealt with, the trauma from the experience can manifest as an anxiety disorder in adults.”
Long story short: I entered therapy not long after. But there were moments, sitting on that big couch in my therapists office where I’d get slammed with a panic attack when revisiting those bad experiences from my youth, not just those related to my mother. On more than one occasion, I’d hit my limit and say, “I don’t want to do this!” The therapist, bless her, would step back from it, and we’d resume talking it out the next week.
I still never lost my tendency to run from emotions. I’d joke my way out of them, I’d push people away if they got to close, I’d wall up and shut down in an effort to shield myself from hurt. It was how I knew how to process things. “Yeah, we’re not going there,” was a common response I’d have to anything related to anything emotional.
My father dying though, that was impossible to run from. It was right there, front and center, and when you’re the child of a person who has passed on who is single, you’re the one dealing the estate, the funeral arrangements, getting rid of what they left behind. All while you’re heart is breaking. Then you have everyone who knew your parent needing to talk about it, talk about their loss. A friend of mine tells the story that when his wife’s father passed, everyone kept telling her to take care of her mother, until she got overwhelmed enough to say, “And who’s taking care of me? I just lost my father.”
That’s the thing though: I didn’t mind hearing people’s stories when my father passed, because it kept him alive. What I did mind was people making it about them without regard for how I was doing. Today, I still bristle when someone talks about how much they miss my father without honoring how much I miss him. Selfish? Maybe it is, and maybe I am in that.
But around the two month mark after my father passed, I hit my limit. Rather than lash out at anyone else, I just shut down. I closed down the doors of my heart, and unless it was my children, no one got it. My children still had the full me; the rest of the world, not so much.
There were moments what I was running from would crack through: attending the MLB All Star Game in 2015 on my father’s birthday found me with tears streaking down my face when Sandy Koufax threw out the first pitch. Walking into Wrigley Field in April 2016, I might have cried, except it was about thirty-two degrees outside, and the tears would have frozen. But two weeks later, reaching the terminus sign of Route 66, I stared up at it, and tears ran down my cheeks thinking I wouldn’t be able to tell my father I had finally achieved driving Route 66 from start to finish.
For the most part, I was on emotional lock down. I’d view experiences from a distance. But I never fully let myself open up and experience them.
Entering yoga instructor certification training in September 2017, one of the first things we did was go around the room and talk about ourselves. I stood up, talked about being a mother, author, and publisher, and said I was looking for more meaningful work. A few classmates later, a woman talked about her many pregnancy losses. Another woman told her story of her own pregnancy losses, and I felt something moving down my cheek. Putting my hand to my face, I realized I was crying.
I pretty much cried every day I was in the studio from that point on. See, we were forced to be honest and upfront, all the while being told repeatedly we were loved and it was okay to be flawed and imperfect. It was okay to not take postures correctly so long as we weren’t hurting one another. And then I had the owner and one of our primary instructors in the program up in my face every single time she saw me (and multiple times on the weekends when certification training was going on) saying to me over and over again: “I love you. You are worthy. I am so happy you’re here.”
Here’s the problem with all that: I began to heal. I began to trust in the process once I let go of my own personal bullshit and embrace being loved and loving in return. But in order to trust in the process, in order to move forward and heal, I had to open up.
And there was Grief, doing it’s best Alex Forrest impersonation, except it wasn’t going after Dan, it was going after me, “I’m not going to be ignored, Amber.”
Up until this last year of my life, there’s been this knee jerk response of “Hey how can we just put this off until later?” in regards to my hurt. Dealing with my past of abuse, not just as a child but in my first marriage? Let’s just take a pill to ease the anxiety and put a bandaid on it, because really, do we want to look too closely, do we really want to revisit a time when I was treated as worthless and beaten? Men ending things? Let’s just move onto the next man and drown ourselves in sex rather than face someone not loving me. Father dies? Hey, let’s just get drunk and take a lot of trips and not face something you can’t place blame on.
So now, now I’m having to face things head on. Because I refused to do the hard work and face it when it went on. Which is not surprising: if you see a cactus, you know it’ll hurt if you touch one of it’s needles, so you just don’t touch the needles. That’s been my mindset for forty years of my life: let’s not touch it. Let’s just know it happened and not face it head on. Let’s just ignore it, much like an ex of mine ignored the leak in his ceiling. Yet me ignoring past hurts, me not facing them, me not learning to process and heal on my own, that worked out just as well as my ex ignoring that leak, but instead of a water heater crashing down into my kitchen, my previous hurts, my previous heartaches, those are coming to the surface.
Except I’m not ignoring them now. I’m not at my doctor’s office or my psychiatrist’s office requesting an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety pill. I’m not using sex as anything other than what the one of two reasons you do it are: enjoyment. I’m not getting myself good and drunk to quiet my thoughts, I’m simply enjoying a drink with a friend over dinner, or enjoying my weekend tradition of brunch while getting miscellaneous work done since the place I frequent for brunch has free WiFi and I like talking to the staff.
Yet, putting it off, I’m still struggling. I’ve spent this last week owning up to how I feel, however that is in any given moment. If I need to cry, I cry, no matter where I’m at, although I do apologize to the poor twenty-something guy who was sitting next to me earlier this week at a bar when I started crying while watching the All Star Game. Said gentleman will one day make an excellent significant other because he asked me to tell him about my dad. I’ve given heads up to all my yoga instructors before class that I might cry, and they don’t need to make a big deal out of it. I’m being honest with how I feel when I feel it, and unlike the last three years, the grief has been less.
But the grief is there. As it should be, because I had a damn good father. And I miss him, as I should, because he was one of the most important people in my life.